Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, January 02, 2006
      ( 1/02/2006 07:45:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"POSSIBLY GILMAN OUGHT NOT TO HAVE STUDIED SO HARD" – New Year's Eve, Showtime ran a marathon of Masters of Horror episodes, so I took advantage of the opportunity to catch the one item that inexplicably has been unavailable through the service’s Video on Demand: Stuart Gordon's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's novella "Dreams in the Witch House." Gordon is, of course, the guy responsible for one of the great sick joke movies of all time, Re-Animator, and while his new hour-long adaptation of Lovecraft doesn't have the same level of audacity as his horror debut (Ezra Godden's Walter Gilman just ain't as dynamic as Jeffrey Combs' Herbert West), it's quickly vaulted over all the show's other offerings to date.

The story centers around Gilman, an overworked graduate student at Miskatonic U. who has taken a room in a dumpy boarding house where dark deeds have been done. One of the corners of his room has some of that peculiar geometry that Lovecraft always liked to go on about – and the more that Gilman notices it, the more he experiences hideous dreams and bouts of sleepwalking. Most disturbingly, these nightmares increasingly revolve around the ritual slaying of an infant who also lives in the boarding house. In Lovecraft's original tale, the infant-in-peril aspect is treated as just one more dark detail (with his usual class-based sensitivity the writer refers to the baby’s mother as a "clod-like laundry worker,") but Gordon and co-scripter Dennis Paoli make it the story's central appalling act by turning child and mother into major characters. (This is not a story for new parents to be viewing.) The revision makes dramatic sense, but it also blunts the horrifying denouement.

Still, "Witch House" provides plenty of perverse over-the-top moments (and a nice dose of nightmare sex, too) – even if the show's shoot-quick budget doesn't always support Gordon's delirious visual intentions. The director and his makeup team have especially dark comic fun with a nattering creature named Brown Sawyer in the original story (a rat-like witch's familiar with a human face), who at one point is shown burrowing his way out of a man's body. Now there was an image to hold onto while you're ringin' in the New Year . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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